Reviews for Jennifer Garner’s Peppermint Praise The Lead, but Slam the Story
After a bunch of, frankly, underwhelming roles, I was looking forward to seeing Jennifer Garner’s return to action with the film Peppermint, but reviews for the revenge action flick have not been good.
It was clear that something was going to be suspect about the film when we saw it was Garner’s character killing a bunch of Latino cartel/drug dealers to avenge the death of her husband and children. It’s a repetitive and unoriginal premise, but I was hoping that there was something more going on that would make it worth watching. I will personally find this out on Sunday, but until then, here is what reviewers are saying.
Spoiler alert, they all address the racial undertones of the Latinx drug gangs and the way Garner is an underwritten badass.
Morel infuses Riley’s recollections with desaturated, choppy footage that evokes Sawby way of Sicario, showing us the people on her to-kill list as masks of remorselessness with face tattoos. She stalks them through drug labs and piñata warehouses. The film cares about the stalking and the killing, not the people being killed; their arbitrary brownness makes the film’s giddy brutality disturbing in a way that’s (hopefully) unintentional.
It’s a shame, because Garner’s herculean efforts throw the film’s sloppiness into even sharper relief. Like Keanu Reeves, Garner has a gift for making every kick, punch, bullet, and desk dropped on someone’s head feel like a spontaneous decision. In the film’s best—and often funniest—moments, she gives that violence emotional substance as well, whether she’s terrifying an alcoholic father into getting his shit together or allowing herself the pleasure of clocking someone who really has it coming. Elsewhere, Morel is as disinterested in her character as he is in her targets, her trauma, or the film’s themes. For most of the film, she’s a wife and mother, but nothing resembling a fully drawn woman. But in those rare moments, Riley North becomes a person: a violent person, a broken person, but a person who might be enjoying herself a little all the same. It’s nice to see her having a good time. At least someone is.
All you really need to know about Peppermint can be gleaned from its title sequence, a hodgepodge of heavy-metal music, filters, and camera effects that would make more sense in a 2000s Simple Plan music video than they do here, in a film starring America’s sweetheart.
As the story slogs on and it becomes obvious that this film has resigned itself to the cliched mediocrity one might have predicted from looking at its poster, even the action sequences fail to merit attention. In a world where John Wick and Atomic Blonde exist, ho-hum shootouts in drug dens feel like a waste of time. There are stunts, but no choreography; there’s violence, but no impact. Even a random Method Man appearance three-fourths of the way through the film doesn’t make it fun. Only Garner’s inimitable charm and a 100-minute runtime make this film at all watchable. There’s a more compelling Jennifer Garner tragedy in the expression on her face in that now-viral photo of her handing ex-husband Ben Affleck a bag of Jack in the Box.
If Hollywood diversions like “Death Wish” and the bizarro “Face/Off” are your bag, choosing to spend 90-plus minutes watching Ms. Garner return to her early action-hero roots and peel off dozens of evil men with ease might seem like a no-brainer. Yet “Peppermint” is a belabored exercise in lazily constructed déjà vu, without the grit or stylized ham of predecessors it so baldly steals from.
As usual, Garner displays an almost heroic refusal to smirk, sigh, or sleepwalk through any of this, never acting as though the material is beneath her, even when it’s something she could be scraping off the bottom of her shoe. But it’s hard to say if the film would have necessarily been worse off if she let us know she’s in on the joke, as “Peppermint” is never more risible than in the moments it takes itself most seriously. From “Death Wish” onward, films of this ilk have long been dogged by a reactionary, if not borderline fascistic, approach to matters of race, and “Peppermint” makes a ham-fisted go at splitting the difference by casting actors of color in the supporting good guy roles, while also playing to Fox News’ swampiest MS-13 fever dreams in its depiction of Garcia’s gang. (It makes no attempt, however, to dodge the white savior tropes that are also endemic to vigilante pics, with one laugh-out-loud shot in particular pushing things well beyond the point of parody.)
The last time we saw this movie, it was the 2018 remake of “Death Wish.” Now it’s called “Peppermint.”
Oh, but “Peppermint” is different because this time it’s the WIFE who survives, not the husband. It’s the wife who goes off the grid and trains to become a steel-nerved assassin, a world-class mixed-martial artist, a cold-blooded torture artist, a makeshift medic capable of patching up deep cuts and gunshot wounds, a tech savant, a remarkably accurate and deadly sharpshooter and a weapons expert.
[…]what distinguishes “Peppermint” from every other vigilante shoot-em-up is that this time, our hero is a mom. Motherhood defines who she is and what she does, which is both her strength and her weakness, and often, it’s somewhat limiting. But just because the vigilante happens to be America’s PTA mom, Garner doesn’t make the wanton displays of unchecked violence any less icky.
Looking at the reactions to the film, I can say that while I know I personally don’t mind a female action heroine going off and becoming a bad-ass in five years (we let dudes to it all the time), the fact that almost every review mentions that the film is just a cliche-riddled gender-bent retelling of a story we know all too well is disappointing. I want Garner to do well and maybe that fulfillment will come on television, but I hope that she uses Pepperment as her own cautionary tale.
(image: STX Entertainment)
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